Walgreens The Thread

Type 1 diabetes in children

By Jean Cherry, MBA, BSN Aug 28, 2022 • 6 min

Finding out your child has type 1 diabetes can be scary. Most people will have many questions and concerns. It's only natural. But with a little help and knowledge, you and your family can be confident that your child can thrive and live well with diabetes.

Some common questions people ask are:

What are the warning signs of type 1 diabetes in children?

Watch for excessive thirst and frequent urination, extreme hunger, unexpected weight loss, irritability and fatigue. Their breath may have a fruity smell, and they may wet their bed or have diapers that are unusually wet and heavy. These symptoms can develop quickly. A child has a slightly higher chance of developing type 1 diabetes if their parents or siblings have diabetes.

What is the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes?

The two main types of diabetes are type 1 and type 2. In type 1 diabetes, the body does not make any insulin, a hormone that allows the body to use sugar from food to supply energy to the cells in the body. An individual with type 1 diabetes must take insulin injections or use an insulin pump to live. Type 1 diabetes is more common in children, but it can occur at any age. 

In type 2 diabetes, the body can still produce insulin, it just doesn’t use it like it should, so the individual takes diabetes medications and potentially insulin, if needed. Although more common in older individuals, there is a growing number of children and adolescents being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

Healthy eating and exercise are important for growth and development of all children, but they are especially important for children with type 1 diabetes.

What are the first steps in learning to manage my child’s diabetes?

  1. Learn how to monitor your child’s blood sugar and properly give insulin either by injection or use of an insulin pump.
  2. Learn to count carbohydrates. You may want to make changes to the entire family’s diet to support your child.
  3. Know the difference between short- and long-acting insulins and how and when to use them.
  4. Help your child with feelings of being different or jealousy between your children, and be there to listen.

Is there a specific meal plan to follow for a child with type 1 diabetes?

There is not one meal plan or diet for children with diabetes, but there are general guidelines. Children with type 1 diabetes must balance the food they eat with the amount of insulin they take to keep blood sugars in a healthy range.

Keeping blood sugar regulated is the key to self-management. Children with type 1 diabetes must monitor their blood sugar by wearing a continuous glucose monitor or fingerstick testing several times a day. Parents and children must count carbohydrate intake and match mealtime insulin doses accordingly to keep blood sugar levels stable, because foods that contain carbohydrates often have a bigger impact on blood sugar than those with a lot of protein or fat. Children with type 1 diabetes should choose healthier carbs, such as nonstarchy vegetables, while minimizing consumption of added sugars, refined grains and highly processed foods.

Is it safe for children with type 1 diabetes to exercise or participate in sports?

Physical activity recommendations are the same for children with diabetes and those without diabetes. Children should be active at least 60 minutes per day and participate in muscle and bone-strengthening exercise three or more days each week. Individuals with diabetes have to be careful because physical activity will lower blood sugar levels. Blood sugar readings will guide the child with type 1 diabetes as to when it is safe for them to exercise.

Where can I find answers to additional questions I have?

The best source of information is your healthcare team. Parents should develop close relationships with their healthcare team and involve their child in the management of their diabetes at an early age. Your healthcare team can provide you with the information and skills needed to safely care for your child, especially when they are experiencing high or low fluctuations in their blood sugar levels.  

For more on living with diabetes, check out The ThreadTM

Published August 2022.

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